Magazine: Aardschok / Netherlands
Article: Het Ultieme Eerbetoon

Written by: Robbie Woning
Published: June 2004


This fall an exeptional Death tribute album will be released, titled ‘Within The Mind-in homage to the musical legacy of Chuck Schuldiner’. Contrary to most nowadays tribute CD’s which are a collage of bad covers played by unknown bands, on the ‘Within The Mind’-project are working quite a lot of well known and skilled musicians: former Death members, colleagues form other extreme metal bands and even musicians from Slipknot, Chimaira and Mudvayne, to whom the music of the deceased Death frontman Chuck Schuldiner appears to have been a big influence.

Coördinator James Murphy admits that he was surprised himself as well about the interest from this unexpected corner, but that he didn’t want to shut anybody out: “Metal genres aren’t private clubs or competing gangs. Everybody is welcome. If young fans of nowadays bands like Slipknot or Chimaira develope interest for Chuck’s music through this tribute, then that just might be the ultimate homage.”

James Murphy was one of the few direct involved, who was not called upon in our memorial article at the beginning of 2002 right after the death of Chuck Schuldiner. At that time the former Death guitarist himself was recovering from surgery, with which a big tumor was removed from his head, and wasn’t able to do any interviews. Meanwhile things seem to be going quite well with him?
“I still have some physical problems. My thyroid gland isn’t working optimum and I probably will have to take medication several times a day for the rest of my life. It’s a misconception that with the removal of the tumor the complaints disappear instantly. When you have cancer, your whole body is off stroke. Not everybody understands that. They say: “your surgery has been a while, when will you be touring


again”? Well, it just isn’t that simple. The message that I would never recover 100% was quite a blow. I’m slowly beginning to accept it, but that isn’t always as easy. About two years ago Jeff Loomis of Nevermore called me. They had some European festivals lined up and wanted me to join as second guitarist. A very attractive offer, but I just wasn’t feeling able to make such a trip. Next they called Steve Smyth of Testament. He exepted their offer and meanwhile even is a permanent member. It’s not nice to see such things happen, but in all honesty I have to consider myself fortunate for still being alive.”


We all know about the financial problems Chuck’s family got into because of Chuck’s illness. You went through similar situations….
“I had financial problems even before the disease was discovered. I was living in Oakland at that time, and nobody spotted that there was something wrong with me. I got more and more forgetful. When I got somewhere, I already forgot what I came for. In the end I didn’t even know my own name anymore. I couldn’t work anymore, I lost my studio and my guitars (it was ALL stolen...), and eventually even became homeless. After a while my sister was able to track me down got me on a Greyhound bus to Florida. The smelling clothes I wore, were the only things I had left.”

In Florida James soon is being diagosed with a big tumor in his head. His forgetfulness is due to hormonsystem failure. A drastic surgery -described into detail on James’ website- is needed urgently.
“That sugery should not have taken place two months later, and even now there was quite a chance that I would die during surgery. Of course they told me those things afterwards. Otherwise I probably would have gone mad.”

How did your disease influence your guitarplay?
“Because of the chemical changes in my body I got into a deep depression. I didn’t feel like doing anything at all, and because I lost my studio and my guitars, I couldn’t do anything at all. After the
surgery I wasn’t able to play guitar for quite some time. My hormones and glands were off stroke completely, and my skin was super sensitive. Sharp metal objects like strings, reallyfelt like razorblades. At that time I could only eat with plastic cutlery, or else I was in great pain.”


“I was a fan of Death and at home I often played along on my guitar with “Scream Bloody Gore” and “Leprosy”. Of course back then I had no idea that I would be playing on the next Death album myself. My first serious band was Agent Steel. I responded to an anonymous add in the paper and to my suprise I was hired. Agent Steel didn’t exactly play my favorite kind of music, and after several line-up changes there was quite a strange atmosphere within that band. But I was 19 and of course I didn’t want to pass out on the opportunity to tour Europe. During that tour I funny enough spent more time with Nuclear Assault than with my Agent Steel colleagues.

I spoke with Chuck for the first time after a gig of the ‘Leprosy’ tour. I told him that I just finished touring with Agent Steel, and Chuck appeared to be a big fan of that band. We talked quite some time about music, and of course in the passing I told him that whenever he needed a guitarplayer he could call me at any time. Shortly after I moved to Atlanta, where I would start with amusical education. I just started with a new band over there with some ex-members of Hallow’s Eve, when Chuck called me. Rick Rozz was fired from Death and he was looking for a replacement. Because at that time I felt a certain obligation to my new band, I at first turned the offer down. Chuck understood


my loyalty, but pretty quick I got the feeling I made a big mistake. I called him the next morning, but unfortunately the band already hired somebody else. I felt so stupid. I just passed out on the opportunity to play with one of my favorite bands. Later on I specially drove to Florida to do a kind of belated auditon. We met at Terry’s house, and there on a little amp and supported by a drumcomputer I showed what I was capable of. Afterwards Chuck said: “It’s obvious that you’re skilled to play the songs, but unfortunately we already have someone else. Whenever something happens, we definitely are going to call you”.

A few weeks later the phone rang indeed. Chuck said: “We fired our guitarplayer again, can you come over as soon as possible?” When I joined the band, 4 songs for ‘Spiritual Healing’ were written. Morrisound was already booked and in the remaining three weeks we wrote the other 4 songs of the CD together. Chuck gave me all space, and I came forward with several ideas. Riffs I wrote at home, but also spontaneous things. The intro of ‘Killing Spree’ in example, arose from a simple finger exercise. Chuck said: “continue with that run” and composed an exiting chord with it at the spot. Because of this spontaneous way of writing, it was great to make that album with Chuck. Unfortunately our cooperation didn’t last very long. Chuck and I were on such good terms, that it had to go wrong. Musically we got along very well and we spend a lot of time together private as well. We went to the record stores together, ate ‘hot wings’ and went to


parties. I had a great time in Orlando. During the first tour our friendship began to crack. We had some little misunderstandings and alike young artistic people, we both took it quite personally. Later on we talked things over, and we both agreed we acted pretty childies back then. I only played in Death for a year. Then, as you may remember, I ended up through Obituary and Disincarnate in Testament.

The last time I spoke with Chuck, I didn’t know yet I had a tumor myself. Later, after my surgery I did several attempts to get in touch with him. Although I was told that Chuck was too weak to come to the phone, I was convinced that he would get through to this. After all I made it. Unfontunately he was having a more aggressive kind, everrecurring. I just couldn’t believe that he died. We agreed to jam again after his recovery. Unfortunately that never happened. Chuck had a vision. Whatever other people would think or say… he kept loyal to his musical vision and to his way of doing business. That I admired in him. Music always came first and that was something we had in common. I will never forget how quick and easy we wrote music together."


You describe it as if it’s all pretty normal.
“It’s been long enough to be able to talk about it normally. It was quite instructive for me to make a new start on all fronts. Believe me, these kind of health problems make you look at life completely different. At the moment I’m very happy to have a roof over my head, and enough to eat on the table. Luckely I gather some equipement as well. I’m being endorsed by the guitar brand Caparison and I got some studio equipement from Mark Of The Unicorn. It’s a hard-disk recording system, qualitavily to compare with ProTools. With this stuff I’m going to record the Death tribute the coming time.”

Although ‘Within The Mind’ is being know as ‘the tribute album of James Murphy’, originally the idea for a tribute came from Deron Miller, singer/guitarist of the American rockband CKY.
“Deron was one of those people who tried to support me through email during my illness. He told me how Chuck and me influenced him to become a guitarplayer himself. Deron didn’t do bad since. His band CKY –nothing to do with death metal at all- is under contract with Island Records and is doing pretty good in America. An interesting correspondence developed between us and after a few months Deron came with the idea of releasing a Death tribute.”

The idea of a worthy Death tribute does appeal to James, but he’s not very eager to ask the Schuldiner family for their permission.
“Since Chuck’s death I have been intensively in contact with his mother Jane on the phone, and I didn’t want to burden them with this. Although there’s no need for permission for a tribute album, I would never be able to release such a CD without their approval. So at first I did nothing with the plans, but because Deron kept nagging me, I eventually presented the idea to Chuck’s mom and sister. They reacted much more enthousiast than I expected. Jane said that she probably would not have given permission to anybody else, and that they trusted me with this. I have to say, that felt pretty good.”

How does such a project further get off the


“After I contacted a few people, the plans for the tribute spread through the scene like wild-fire. Most musicans contacted me themselves, but others I personally asked. Nick Barker for instance. I already knew him from the days he was the drum-roadie of Cancer and since then he became one of the best extreme metal drummers on earth. I asked him two months ago on the Florida Death Fest, if he wanted to join on the CD, he didn’t have to think one second. I still am being contacted by people who want to play. Also by bands, who offer me recordings of Death covers, but that’s not the intention.”

Are you aware of the negative image of the word ‘tribute-CD’?
“Certainly. Nowadays tribute CD’s are being released of the strangests bands. The other day I saw ‘A Tribute To Mushroomhead’. Something I don’t understand at all, because that band only released two albums themselves. But of course such albums are only being released to have a quick one from the reputation of the band. Why this tribute is different? Well, for starters there will not be complete bands on it. It’s about individual musicians, it’s about cross-fertilization of excisting bands. In example in ‘Together As One’ you will hear Richard Christy on drums, Mark Hunter from Chimaira singing, Paul from Slipknot on bass, and Deron Miller from CKY and me on guitar.”

Another difference compared to the usual tribute albums is that several musicians that take part have played with Chuck.
“That’s right, although they won’t play their own songs of course. It would be totally senseless to let Richard drum songs from ‘The Sound Of Perseverance’ again. Instead you now can hear how ‘Human’ would have sound when Richard would have been in the band at that time.”

Eversince I heard Slipknot cover a Morbid Angel song during a sound check I know their metal roots are okay. Chimaira’s music on the contrary doesn’t give the impression that Death ever was
of great musical influence to them.
“Why not? Chimaira is pretty heavy, but just chose another approach. Their singer Mark Hunter once started as a drummer and always admired Death because of the interersting drumwork. Also Mick from Slipknot and Deron from CKY are true die hard metalheads. They grew up with death metal and that genre inspired them to learn to play an instrument themselves. I’m very glad about these kind of musicians participating on the tribute, and I think because of their appearance a whole new generation of listeners is going to learn to know the music of Death. I don’t think Chuck would have objected to not death metal fans listening to his music.”


To what extend will the performance of the songs differ from the original? Are we going to get to hear a Slipknot-blast-version of ‘Pull The Plug’?
“Basically I leave that to the musicians themselves. I won’t except drastic, avantgard corruptions though, but if someone wants to do different drum rolls or solo’s, that’s fine. Gratuitouosly copying the original version of the song isn’t interesting for anybody. They are all talented musicians, so about the quality of the music I don’t worry at all. I think there will be around 14 tracks on the album. Besides there will be a free DVD with images of the realization and interviews with the participating musicians.”

How far are you with the recordings?
“At this moment we only recorded 5 drumtracks, 1 basstrack, and 1 vocaltrack. Other recordings were scheduled, but the band suddenly got offered a tour and was not available all at once. I’m afraid those things are going to happen more often. All participating musicians have record deals and take part in bands that tour regularly.”

‘Within The Mind’ is a typical project that you can bring into perfection endlessly.
“We will try to set a clear deadline for ourselves. I still aim for a fall release. No, I’m not under contract at Mascot Records, but as a producer I’m sidewise involved with this project. Recently I signed a deal with Nuclear Blast for making a new Disincarnate album. Next I’m officialy still under contract with Shrapnel as a solo artist.”

You are going to travel the complete States for the Death tribute the coming time?
“The drums are always recorded in a local studio and for the rest of the music I have my own mobile recordingset with me. First I’m going to record drums with Dave Culross, next Brett Hoffmann and Ross Dolan will sing a few songs. It’s gonna be a mega job, but I’m convinced that it is gonna be a great sounding CD.”


to talks

Translated by YK/MM for EmptyWords-Published on June 18 2004